(For those completely new to this sort of thing, a podcast is essentially an internet radio broadcast; it just takes a click of the mouse to listen.)
(Once there, simply click the play button or the “Play in new window” link on the left-hand side of the page to start listening.)
Today I posted the following on my website, www.commeraw.com, but I just wanted to share this with everyone here, as well:I could not be happier to see Thomas Commeraw’s name, and true identity, in a New York newspaper for the first time in almost two hundred years. He and the Commeraw Project were both part of today’s issue of The New York Times, in Eve Kahn’s article on Americana Week. Click here to read it.
When I announced this project almost ten months ago, I could not have hoped for a better response. Many of you have been kind enough to share photographs of Commeraw’s work, and have even welcomed me into your homes to see and photograph your pottery. Without this generosity, I would not have the understanding of Commeraw’s career that I do now.
I am dedicated to finishing the book as soon as possible, and have a tentative completion date of Spring 2011 for my first draft. It covers a broad and (I hope) fascinating range from Commeraw himself to his fellow Manhattan potters to the black community at large to New York itself and, finally, to Commeraw’s amazing fate.
The vast majority of my time over the last several years, in working on this project, has been spent in research–in both primary documentary sources and modern scholarship. If I do the material justice, and I truly hope (and believe) that I am, this book will be a major contribution not only to the field of American ceramics but, I believe, American history in general. This has been a labor of love for me and I hope, before all is said and done, to see Thomas Commeraw restored as an important American historical figure.
Thank you for visiting and please feel free to drop me a line. I am still seeking photos of any examples of Thomas Commeraw’s stoneware, so please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to participate.
The result is the first published article on the Washington, D.C. stoneware potters, which appears in the current (Autumn / Winter 2010) issue of Antiques and Fine Art Magazine. In the article I finally explain who Richard Butt really was, who the mysterious John Walker was, and what Enoch Burnett’s work actually looked like. I highly encourage anyone interested in this subject to get a hold of a copy of the current issue of Antiques and Fine Art (available at major bookstores), but in the meantime, they have generously allowed me to post an electronic version to our website:
Washington, D.C. Stoneware by A. Brandt Zipp
Courtesy, the Autumn/Winter 2010 issue of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.
I hope you enjoy my article.
We are thrilled to be able to acquire this historic property, and are in the process of converting it into a first-class auction facility. Our intention is to make the Gorsuch Barn the auction home for stoneware and redware in the United States. Our address is now 15900 York Road, Sparks, MD 21152, which is located just off of Interstate 83, about thirty minutes south of our old auction location at the York Expo Center. As we prepare our new building for its grand opening, we are also, of course, gearing up for our Fall 2010 auction, and will be loading our first photos of featured lots onto the website on Wednesday, September 8. We will soon be firming up the exact date.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough the unique opportunity that our first auction in our new building will present for you to showcase your stoneware and redware. If you are considering selling your pottery, we feel that this inaugural auction, presented in an atmosphere that we have never before been able to achieve at our previous locations, will attract a record-breaking crowd of serious bidders. Please feel free to contact us for a free evaluation of your pottery. Our seller’s commission is still 11%.
Stay tuned to our website for more exciting news as Crocker Farm continues to grow, and, as always, if we can help you in any way, please do not hesitate to call or email us. Thank you all for your support over the many years, and we look forward to the future in our new home!
I wanted to briefly update those interested in my Thomas Commeraw project on its status and what has happened since I first announced it back on March 31. First, although I have already done so privately, I want to publicly thank those of you who have been so helpful in providing photographs of Commeraw’s work (and David Morgan’s pieces) for use in my book. I am very grateful for your willingness to participate in what I think is an important endeavor for the study of not just American stoneware but American decorative arts in general. I understand that it is no small favor that you have done me in trusting me with handling images of your pieces. Secondly, I want to thank everyone for their encouragement as I come down the home stretch of my writing and putting the book together. Whether providing me with pictures or simply offering kind words of support, the response I have received since announcing this undertaking has meant a lot to me.
As for the status of this project, I have dedicated a significant amount of time over the past few months to writing, and I am pleased with the progress I have made. I expect and hope to have a rough draft finished quite soon, and am very dedicated to making that happen. Since Commeraw’s surviving work is naturally an important part of the book, I just wanted to once again invite anyone in possession of either his pottery or other Corlears Hook stoneware to participate in this project. Anonymity and discretion are extremely important to me, and while when possible I would love to photograph your pieces myself, that is not necessary. In many cases I am able to use photos taken by you, and submitting them is as simple as emailing them to me. I have a fairly large, representative number of photographs of various pieces of Commeraw’s pottery right now, but I would love to expand it. Even pictures of common pieces are useful to me, but I am of course particularly seeking any unusual stoneware made in Corlears Hook―this includes the quite rare vessels stamped “COERLEARS HOOK” (note the alternate spelling) and often decorated with incised floral decorations, canning jars (and really any type of stoneware) made in the typical Commeraw style but stamped with merchant marks, and anything that would be considered different from the norm. Click here to see some photos of Commeraw’s stoneware; the canning jars and Ashmore’s Genuine Cordials jug are a couple of examples of the more unusual pieces I am seeking. As I said, even typical pieces are of value to me, but if you are curious if something you have falls into the category of rare or strange―or even if you have something that you think was made by Commeraw but aren’t sure―please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thank you all again for your much appreciated support and I will continue to keep everyone updated as the summer wears on. If you ever want to contact me about photos or anything else at all, the easiest way to do so is through the following web page: http://www.commeraw.com/contact.
The “MOORE & FOOTE” crock to be sold in our upcoming July 17 stoneware and redware auction is a very interesting example of American advertising stoneware. The impressed mark is one of the longest, most detailed I have ever seen:
MOORE & FOOTE WHOLESALE DEALERS IN GROCERIES, PROVISIONS,
WHITEFISH & TROUT STONEWARE PAINTS OILS, DYEWOODS SASH &
GLASS ANCHORS ROPES, CANVASS & OTHER SHIPCHANDLERY
Moore and Foote—Franklin Moore and George Foote—were not potters; they were very prominent merchants in the city of Detroit. In a book written in the latter part of the nineteenth century, History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan, the author, Silas Farmer, wrote,
In 1835 Mr. [Franklin] Moore engaged in the grocery business, and carried it on alone until 1837, when his store and stock were destroyed by fire. The same year he started a new store …, the firm continuing until 1846, and doing a large and ever-increasing business. It was succeeded by the wholesale and retail grocery house of Moore & Foote, George Foote being the junior partner. In 1859, on the admission of John J. Bagley, the name of the firm was changed to Moore, Foote & Company, and for many years they did the largest business of any grocery firm in the State, their sales aggregating millions of dollars annually. (History of Detroit and Wayne County and early Michigan by Silas Farmer, 1890, Volume 2, pg. 1220)
An item I found in a Michigan newspaper printed in 1869 was effusive in its praise of Moore and Foote:
A few weeks since a justly deserved compliment was paid through the columns of the Mining Gazette, to the high character of the well-known house of Messrs. MOORE, FOOTE & CO., of Detroit. There is not, probably, a merchant or mining company on Lake Superior who cannot vouch for every word of that high encomium. Ever courteous and affable in their intercourse with patrons, and exceeding lenient to all who are willing, though at all times unables to meet their obligations promptly, these gentlemen have won a place in the estimation of their many friends on the Lake, second to no other house east or west.
(Lake Superior Miner [Ontonagon, Michigan], 9/11/1869)
Moore and Foote were apparently kingpins of the Detroit merchant scene.
The crock itself may have been made under the auspices of some pottery owned by Moore and Foote, but very probably not, as is almost always the case with advertising stoneware such as this. It very closely resembles Wisconsin stoneware that I have seen, but it wasn’t necessarily made there, and could have been made in Detroit or elsewhere in Michigan or nearby Ohio by some potter using the same style. Little has been written about potters working in this area of the Great Lakes region, but my main initiative in writing this brief article is to establish the identities of the merchants Moore & Foote, and to discuss what I believe is a fascinating aspect of American stoneware production.
Growing up around stoneware and seeing the myriad advertising pieces that stand alongside those that bear potters’ marks (or no marks at all), I tended to take for granted their existence without thinking much about why they were there. But I think exploring their origin helps us not only to better understand these piece themselves, but to better understand the nineteenth century American stoneware industry in general.
Merchants who bought stoneware directly from potteries who emblazoned the vessels with their names were obviously concerned with “getting their name out there.” (For another discussion of merchant stoneware, see this article, written about one year ago). But different merchants seem to have had different mindsets about what they were accomplishing when they ordered their stoneware. Sometimes the marks seem like requisite afterthoughts, affixed mostly because it was the proper thing to do, and because the potter did it for free or cheaply. I hesitate to lower stoneware to the critical level of a free pen given out at a trade show, but I do think the same mindset always came into play with advertising stoneware—in using a vessel (or a pen) on a daily basis, the consumer is constantly reminded of whatever firm’s name is imprinted thereon. Often (I would say usually) the jug, jar, or bottle bore simply the merchant’s name and (though not always) his city. I’m not sure how much control over the wording on a particular pot the merchant had, but my educated guess is that in most cases the pottery had a standard way of handling things, which could be altered for extra money or through some other arrangement. So if Smith & Jones in Scranton, Pennsylvania, dealers in turpentine, wanted a group of jugs to sell their turpentine in, the pottery, by default, probably marked them “SMITH & JONES / SCRANTON, PA.” Had Messrs. Smith and Jones wanted their jug to spell out “DEALERS IN TURPENTINE, &C.,” they most certainly could have had that done, but it might have cost more money—or, perhaps, taken nothing more than extra negotiation or a friendly request.
So what was the point of stamping your name (and sometimes city) alone on a particular piece of pottery? I’m sure this often confused consumers. How was someone supposed to always know the difference between a maker’s mark and a merchant’s mark? Suppose they saw a beautiful jug and wanted to contact the pottery for a bunch of their own? If all they had to go on was the name impressed in the clay, wouldn’t they assume that person was the potter? This is the same problem we often encounter today in evaluating pottery. By now so many potteries are documented, but unknown marks, or barely-documented ones, turn up all the time. Often a piece is so obviously made by a known pottery that the mystery mark on it is very certainly that of some other business owner. But sometimes not, and we have to turn to paper documents to sort things out.
Often these names were so well-known to consumers of their time period that no further introduction was needed. This seems to be the case for Moore and Foote, though they still felt the need to be long-winded. But what happened when this wasn’t so? I’m sure, actually, that this was partly the point. Any particular pot stamped with a merchant’s mark was meant to direct you to that merchant. You could buy stoneware directly from a pottery, but you could also buy it from a middle-man—and that was the business relationship that the mark was supposed to initiate. This might seem like a bad deal for the potter, but it was not. Whether a pottery sold its stoneware to an agent or sold it right out of their warehouse was probably neither here nor there, and any lost mark-up that they normally enjoyed in dealing with the general public was simply the cost of doing business.
In many cases, then, I believe the merchant shop, for all intents and purposes, wanted the consumer to see a particular pot as its product, not that of the local (or distant) stoneware manufactory. For small towns where the stoneware industry was non-existent, I’m sure customers had little choice (or barely knew better) than to procure all of their stoneware through merchants. But in localities where the stoneware industry was booming, and well-known to residents—say, Bennington, Vermont, or Baltimore, Maryland—the consumer was presented with a choice between merchants or potteries. I wonder if some potteries, like most modern-day companies providing consumer goods, simply did not deal with the general public. I really doubt this, however; potters needed to make money wherever they could, and often bartered for their ware, taking necessities like firewood in exchange. Sometimes, I suppose, the price a person paid at a merchant store was the same or even less than they paid directly from the potter, depending on what the merchant paid for the ware, and what specials they might have been running on that particular day.
This implies, however, that the merchants were even selling stoneware as a standalone commodity. In the case of any theoretical company like Smith and Jones, who sold nothing but turpentine and a few other odds and ends, the only stoneware they sold would probably be given over as containers for their primary product. So a customer who needed turpentine also received a stoneware jug for his or her money. Smith and Jones wouldn’t have even bothered dealing with stoneware manufacturers if they didn’t need vessels to hold their turpentine. Taking businesses like this into account, as far as distribution of stoneware went, there were probably only a few different types of merchant shops.
There were those who sold specific consumables like liquor or turpentine, and who only provided stoneware as containers to customers. In these cases, the stoneware may have been handed over as part of some deposit system.
There were merchants who acted as brokers for stoneware potters—either selling the stoneware of one particular pottery at a time, or maybe offering the wares of a few different ones. In my Commeraw article of 5/31/2009, I noted that a Portland, Maine, merchant had advertised, in an 1828 newspaper, “a large assortment of ‘Croliu’s’ [sic] New York painted, superior ware,” claiming that he was “agent for several extensive New York manufactories” of all kinds of goods. In my 6/8/2009 article on the Boston advertising jug, I likewise mentioned how David D. Wells, a Boston merchant, had advertised that he was a “Wholesale and Retail Dealer in every description of BENNINGTON STONE WARE” in the 1859 Boston city directory. An extreme example of these types of dealers would be someone like D.P. Hobart in Williamsport, PA, who sold ware made at the local pottery, which was stamped “D.P. HOBART, Agent / Williamsport, PA.” Within this framework, there were probably infinite iterations of how a particular firm did business. Some probably openly sold, say, stoneware marked “J. & E. NORTON / BENNINGTON, VT.” Others sold pieces like the subject of this article—made by a stoneware pottery, but marked with the merchant’s name. Those businessmen who chose to have their names emblazoned on a jug or jar had varying philosophies on the “ad space” of the vessel, and those that saw it as a valuable marketing tool had nice, descriptive stamps fashioned. Others were content with their name, and maybe address. For those that only sold stoneware marked with their own name, I wonder how often they marketed it as the product of a particular pottery, or how forthcoming they were as to its origin. And still other merchants probably sold a mixture of both—for instance, some marked with the Nortons’ stamp, some other identical ones marked with their own.
But the vast majority of merchant shops—especially in the case of run-of-the-mill general merchants—probably provided stoneware in both the above two ways. Someone could come into the shop and buy grain, liquor, or pickles, and take it home in a stoneware vessel. Another person might be in need of a group of containers for his home or farm, and take back a quantity of empty stoneware. Consumers buying stoneware as its own product or merely as a container could have ended up with pottery marked by the maker or marked with the merchant’s name, probably at the discretion of said merchant. In some cases, the merchant probably saw, say, the Nortons’ stoneware as a good, salable brand, and thus favored it as the product they offered. Others probably saw more value in having their own name affixed, and that was the product they offered. Perhaps, in fact, stoneware bearing merchants’ names was (usually) that designed only to be sold as a secondary container, and stoneware bearing the potter’s name was that supposed to be sold as its own product.
In the end, this brief discussion probably provides more questions than it does answers. But I think they are questions worth considering as we attempt to understand this eighteenth and nineteenth century product we value as art and how, and why, the general public bought it.
The initials “J M T” refer to potter, James M. Thompson, Jr., of London, Ohio. Born in 1786, Thompson was the younger brother of John W. Thompson, patriarch of the Thompson family of potters active in Morgantown, WV for most of the 19th century. James’ nephew, and perhaps the most well-known member of the family, was David Greenland Thompson, who produced a large number of stoneware pieces with cobalt people decorations around the year 1870, which are highly prized by collectors today. Much of what is known about James can be found in the well-researched article “The Potters and Pottery of Morgan’s Town, Virginia,” by Don Horvath and Richard Duez, featured in the 2004 edition of Ceramics in America. According to Horvath and Duez, Thompson likely learned the potting trade from Jacob Foulk in Morgantown around 1804. Though no apprenticeship records have been found, Thompson’s involvement in a court case against Foulk suggest a relationship between the two (Horvath and Duez, p. 121). Another book entitled “The History of Madison County, Ohio,” which was written in 1883, offers additional insight into Thompson’s potting career. According to this book, he traveled to London, Ohio in 1813, and established a pottery there in the same year. He was one of the first settlers in the town of London, and, judging by the early date of his arrival, may have been one of the earliest potters in all of Western Ohio. A lawyer named John Dungan, who traveled through London in 1835, described the town as having “two potteries. . . one located on South Main street, in the rear of the present residence of Judge Clark, carried on by James M. Thompson, and the other located on the site of the Presbyterian Church carried on by W.W. Burchnell.” (A signed redware jar by William Burchnell exhibiting Morgantown influence was sold by Crocker Farm, Inc., in July of 2009.) As further noted by Horvath and Duez, Thompson is listed in the 1850 U.S. Census for Mt. Pleasant Township, Madison County, Ohio, as a potter, age sixty-four, born in Virginia, living with his wife, Sarah, also a native Virginian ( Horvath and Duez, p. 121).While Thompson’s career in Ohio spanned forty years or more, Horvath and Duez note that no examples of his work from Morgantown or London were known as of the publication of their article. This jar is the first signed product of this potter to have surfaced. Earlier this year, we received photos from a woman in Ohio, who inquired about consigning the jar. We were instantly intrigued by the impressed word “LONDON,” after having sold a jar by potter, William Burchnell, from the same town. We believe the ovoid form and stylish rim date it to somewhere around the year 1830. The impression of the mark across the midsection is unusual for any early American pottery, and suggests that Thompson wanted his business name to be very noticeable, literally “front and center” when his pots were used. The length of the mark also suggests he may have used a coggle wheel, rather than a very long rectangular stamp, which would be more difficult to apply against a heavily-curved surface. The Morgantown Thompsons were very familiar with such tools, where they were frequently used on both stoneware and redware to ornament a vessel’s shoulder and handles. Several coggle wheels from the Thompson family’s Morgantown operation have survived, and are currently in the collection of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
New discoveries in stoneware and redware are one of the more exciting parts of this business. With each newly-found maker’s mark comes greater insight into the tastes of a specific potter. And as with any antique, just one signed “missing link” piece can help put a name on thousands of otherwise unattributable works.